Hockey goalies have been expressing their passions through their masks for years.
Goaltending in hockey is one of the most important positions in sports. As a goalie, you’re part of almost every play and all eyes are on you. All of that attention creates a lot of pressure, especially knowing that EVERYONE is watching when you make a mistake.
But on the pro side, goalies are given a special opportunity to customize their equipment. After all, “You have to look good to play good.” To most people, a mask is a disguise, affording some sense of anonymity. A goalie, on the contrary, uses a mask to define his or her individual personality. Most of the time, by looking at a hockey mask, most of the time you’ll know exactly who that goaltender is. Their masks always have a deeper meaning; life stories, childhood passions, hometown flags, and local symbols often portrayed.
Some masks, like those of Robin Lehner and Corey Hirsch depict the struggles of their lives. Lehner’s masks depict demonic looking skulls and team logos. Following his stint with the Buffalo Sabres, Lehner entered rehab for substance abuse and bipolar disorder after having a panic attack on the ice. After joining the New York Islanders, Lehner was very open about his mental health issues and, through his mask and social media, has become the poster child for mental health awareness in the NHL.
Similarly, Hirsch also struggled through some dark, depressive episodes. He chose a dark theme for his mask that illustrated the haunted motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Psycho. He felt the Halloween theme and orange colors represented the fire he felt in his brain every day and wanted it to be a part of his uniform. Both goaltenders were able to spread a message and garner league wide support for mental health via the art of their masks.
More recently, New York Rangers goaltender Alexander Georgiev strayed from his usual Russian mask imagery – a callback to his home country - and designed a mask that featured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Georgiev, following the murder of George Floyd, wanted to spread awareness about racial inequality through his mask.
While with the Vancouver Canucks, Braden Holtby reached out to the local Indigenous community to help him design a mask featuring the totem poles of the Pacific Northwest tribes. His involvement with the Indigenous community sparked conversation about involving and honoring these tribes more in various league activities.
Some masks are also very patriotic. Rick DiPietro’s mask featured the Iwo Jima memorial and was covered in the stars and stripes in a tribute to all who have served. Similarly, Henrik Lundqvist wore a mask paying tribute to the New York City Fire Department and those lost during the September 11 attacks. My own mask features red and white stripes with blue flames and stars streaking across the mask.
Frederick Anderson, a huge LEGO fan as a child, has depicted LEGO Batman in many of his masks. He was known as the “Blue Knight” during his time in Toronto. Additionally, he had a LEGO “Duckman” building a brick wall on his mask with the Anaheim Ducks.
What’s the significance of the brick wall? In hockey, a good goalie is known as a “brick wall.” Nothing can get by him or her. Thus, many goalies feature brick wall imagery on their masks to intimidate their opponents and boost their own confidence. Intimidation is another factor that’s also considered when designing masks. Menacing predators are sometimes featured such as Curtis Joseph’s rabid dog, or Tuukka Rask’s roaring bear - which were some of the most creative and awesome masks of all time.
Goaltenders are given the unique opportunity to use their voice to spread a message through their mask unlike the rest of us who’ve been hiding behind masks just to go to the grocery store for the past year and a half. The goalie mask isn’t just for stopping pucks and protecting skulls – it’s one of the most powerful displays of art in the sports world.